How is gluten extracted from flour?
To many people, gluten-free may seem like a passing phase or fad, with everyone and everything seemingly going gluten-free these days. But for those who suffer from gluten-sensitivity or serious conditions like coeliac disease it is a vital necessity to avoid gluten altogether.
Up until relatively recently, there were very few gluten-free products available on the market. Naturally this considerably limited the choice of foods available to those with gluten-related disorders, particularly as a large majority of everyday foods, such as bread, cakes and cereals contain gluten. However, the recent rise in popularity, variety and availability of gluten-free products has resulted in a much broader selection of products on offer. And one of the key ingredients making a real difference is gluten-free flour, where the gluten is extracted out of the end product.
What is gluten?
However, before we go into more detail on how gluten is extracted from flour, it might be worth explaining a little more about what gluten is. Thus, we can then understand how it is taken out of the flour.
Gluten is a substance found in wheat and other associated grains such as oats, barley and rye. It comprises of a combination of stored proteins called prolamins that conjoin with starch. When used in baking such as the flour for bread or cakes, these proteins and starch give the mixture elasticity, helping it to keep its shape and rise.
The extraction process
But of course, for gluten-related disorders the mere presence of these prolamins or gluten proteins can cause significant reactions depending on the severity of the sensitivity. This is why during the flour milling process; these glutens are removed from the flour to create a gluten-free alternative. This means that flour can still be used in baking bread, cakes and pastries without the risk of a gluten reaction.
This end product is achieved through a process of extraction, essentially this means removing the starch/gluten element from the flour completely.
In simple terms this is done by kneading the normal flour with cool water to create an elastic dough mixture. At this stage the dough has combined the starch and gluten agents together, but by kneading it under cold water, the starch granules containing the gluten will naturally be pushed out of the dough and extracted. The remaining gluten-free dough is then compressed to remove the remaining water and dried to leave a fine flour substance. Surprisingly this process can be done yourself at home as the actual process is relatively basic but long-winded.
However, understandably to meet the increasing demand for gluten-free flour, flour mill producers will use a more high-tech system and process to remove the gluten quickly and efficiently. On an industrial scale the dough is mechanically kneaded to extract the gluten. It then goes through a screw press and is fed through an atomizer nozzle into a special drying compartment to remove the remaining water. It is then air cooled, packaged and ready to go for sale on the shelves and into our food.
Thanks to widely available gluten-free flour you can have endless possibilities for baking, even if you’re not sensitive to gluten!